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EFL expert Gab Sutton is back once again to walk you through a busy weekend with his latest weekend preview.

“Nottingham Forest badly need victory in this grudge match to kick their season into life and I think they’ll keep a clean sheet, largely because I expect Derby to be afraid of the pace mismatch in key areas.”

Gabriel Sutton

Derby County v Nottingham Forest

Derby to score under 0.5 goals

9/5

Previous East Midlands derbies have seen Derby and Forest in healthy positions, looking to challenge for a place in the top six: but that’s unlikely to be the case this year, with both clubs seemingly in crisis for different reasons.

 

The Rams are hamstrung by financial woes that have restricted them to a wafer-thin squad comprising largely of veterans well past their hay day and youngsters some way off their own.

 

Their foes do have the means to challenge but, after starting the season with four straight defeats, Chris Hughton has undone any of the goodwill he built up from the stabilization he oversaw last term, with the former Brighton promotion winner coming under criticism for an uninspiring style of football.

 

Despite this, the Reds can carry a threat in attack: where the energy, movement and dynamism of Brennan Johnson combined with the raw pace of Alex Mighten can cause problems, as we saw in the first half of the opening day 2-1 loss at Coventry.

 

Johnson, we can expect, will come into the XI after being used from the bench in the previous league game, a 1-0 loss at Stoke and the homegrown duo will strike fear into Derby’s aging rear-guard.

 

Wayne Rooney’s favoured centre-back pairing appears to be Curtis Davies and Phil Jagielka, 36 and 39 respectively, who will be terrified of anyone running at them let alone Johnson and Mighten: the alternative is 34-year-old Richard Stearman or Eiran Cashin, 19, who may not be deemed ready for the challenge.

 

The hosts will be vulnerable in transition, so the dilemma is the point at which they should engage their opponents in possession: too high and the veteran duo could be horribly exposed, but too deep and James Garner will have space to dictate in midfield.

 

On loan from Manchester United, Garner impressed in the second half of last season and brings the ball-playing qualities to make Forest’s double-pivot better-rounded than it would be if Jack Colback were the one partnering athlete Ryan Yates.

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“Stoke have started the season well, which means an inflated price on a comfortable Fulham win, but I perceive a massive gap between the Whites and the rest of the Championship.”

Gabriel Sutton

Fulham v Stoke

Fulham -1 handicap

Fulham have enjoyed a wonderful start to their Championship campaign, accruing 10 points from their first four games.

 

Their squad is soaked in quality and, up until this week, the only thing missing had been reliable back-up for serial goalscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic.

 

Even that problem has subsequently been assuaged, because striker Rodrigo Muniz signed from Flamengo on Wednesday, while the speedy Jay Stansfield scored in the 2-0 EFL Cup victory at Birmingham.

 

It is likely that Mitrovic will start up top against Stoke, though, because the Serb has already forged an excellent relationship with Fabio Carvalho, who operates as the number 10 in Marco Silva’s 4-2-3-1.

 

Carvalho is proving the perfect foil for Mitrovic, not just because of his excellent technical ability and shrewd movement.

 

“Mitro” has everything to be desired from a second-tier centre-forward: strength, aggression, aerial prowess and superb poaching instincts – but he has very little pace.

 

When Tom Cairney operated as the central attacking midfielder in the 4-2-3-1, he did nothing to compensate for that particular weakness in the striker because he had no real pace himself and tended to drop in to link play.

 

Carvalho, though, can run in behind and stretch defences with his speed and bold movement, which creates extra space not just for wide men like Neeskens Kebano and Ivan Cavaleiro, but also for Mitrovic to find those key goalscoring areas.

 

If the 18-year-old is fit, after picking up a knock in the previous league game, he could do lots of damage: even against a Stoke side that have started well.

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“Cambridge have had a steady start in terms of results, but I’m not sold on them performance wise and I expect Bolton to finish August in the top six.”

Gabriel Sutton

Cambridge United v Bolton Wanderers

Bolton to win and over 1.5 goals

Bolton continued their unbeaten start to the league season with a 2-1 victory last weekend over Oxford.

 

Ian Evatt’s side are League One’s top scorers with nine goals in their opening four games, but currently reside outside the top six at this embryonic stage.

 

Evatt has to be credited for the tactical adaptability he has shown as Trotters boss thus far: he had the sense to tell 3-4-1-2 was not working last season and his switch to the simpler 4-2-3-1 catalyzed the run of 16 wins from 22 that ultimately secured promotion.

 

Against Oxford, meanwhile, he spotted that the opposition had switched to a diamond system and subsequently sought to utilize the wide areas: right-back Gethin Jones, for example, had 77 touches, more than any other player on the field, with both he and left-back Declan John typically stationed above the halfway line.

 

This tactical freedom of the full-backs was enabled by the defensive solidity provided by MJ Williams, who produced a man-of-the-match display at the base of midfield.

 

Going forward, meanwhile, Bolton have the creative talents of Josh Sheehan and the individual quality of Oladapo Afolayan, who produced a wonderful strike from outside the box last time out.

 

The Lancashire visitors have the quality to see off Cambridge, with whom they were promoted from League Two last season.

 

The U’s beat Burton 3-0 last time out by scoring more goals than they mustered shots on target, and there is an argument to say that while they currently sit on a respectable five points, their tally could easily be significantly lower.

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“I like Lee Johnson and fully expect Sunderland to be in the top six, but Wycombe are underrated here. The Chairboys are unbeaten in league and cup, so to get 5/6 on that record continuing on Wearside seems excellent business.”

Gabriel Sutton

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers

Double Chance: Draw/Wycombe

5/6

Eight points from four games represents an excellent start to the season for Wycombe, who hold ambitions of an instant return to the Championship.

Gareth Ainsworth employed high-pressing methods for the 1-0 win over Lincoln, for which a double-pivot of Curtis Thompson and Josh Scowen – so good at quickly going into challenges – was perfect.

Once the Chairboys have the ball in any position, they can always carry a threat with their front-three.

If opponents are backing off them, they can use the reference point of a former international target man in Sam Vokes – who looks rejuvenated and surprisingly mobile at () – who is a fantastic outlet from goal-kicks and long balls.

If opponents push up, though, Wycombe can release the pace of Daryl Horgan, who stretches play with his runs in behind and is boosted by a strong international summer with Ireland.

In defence, meanwhile, Anthony Stewart organises those around him and dominates his penalty area, with the veteran’s presence enabling the Chairboys to defend well with full-backs by trade in the wide centre-back positions.

Jack Grimmer, on the right, is one of the most accomplished one-on-one defenders in League One due to his athleticism, while Joe Jacobson’s diagonals to Vokes will be a key feature of Wycombe’s play this season.

The Buckinghamshire outfit lost 4-0 the last time they travelled to Sunderland, but they are stronger now than they were in 2019-20, despite the fact they won promotion that season.

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“Forest Green are one of two stand-out sides in this division and they have threats across the park: I expect that to show here.”

Gabriel Sutton

Forest Green Rovers v Port Vale

Forest Green to win and BTTS

Nicky Cadden scored a hat-trick in Forest Green’s 6-3 victory over Crawley on Saturday: and he’s a left wing-back.

There are few examples of a wing-back bagging three goals: Andy Little once achieved the feat for Rangers, likewise Layvin Kurzawa for PSG.

The 24-year-old might have grabbed the headlines but it was his corresponding wing-back, Kane Wilson, who proved the main creative influence.

In fact, Forest Green have threats almost everywhere opponents look, which makes life so much easier for target man Jamille Matt and nippy poacher Matty Stevens, who have bagged eight goals between them already this year.

Forest Green also have quality in midfield, where Ben Stevenson is starting to repeat the promise he once showed in League One as a youngster at Coventry, while Raith Rovers recruit Regan Hendry looks one of the signings of the season.

Bradford are one of League Two’s two stand-out sides so far this season, but Rob Edwards’ Green Devils are the other.

If the automatic promotion race continues to play out as the early weeks suggest they might, it could be a case of the top two elevating themselves above the pack, with a cluster of sides in and around the Play-Off places vying for the third spot.

Winless thus far, Port Vale might struggle to establish themselves among that cluster: manager Darrell Clarke, who was very unhappy with his side’s first half display in the 1-1 draw at Stevenage, is building a whole new team after a summer of squad upheaval.

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“Hartlepool have enjoyed a good start to the season, but I also like what I’ve seen from Carlisle so I won’t put my money on a home win. Instead, I’ll go for a speculative poke on Jamie Sterry to score anytime at 10/1.”

Gabriel Sutton

Hartlepool United v Carlisle United

Jamie Sterry to score anytime

Dave Challinor will be delighted with his side’s start to life in the EFL.

The Liverpudlian’s Hartlepool outfit have accrued six points from their first three games, with wins over Crawley and Walsall accompanying convincing performances.

In layman’s terms, Pools operate with a 3-5-2 but the formation often looks much more like a 3-1-2-4, because wing-backs Jamie Sterry and David Ferguson push so high up the field.

Ferguson, in particular, had 11 touches within 18-yards of the byline in the previous game, which was more than any other player on the field.

In fact, the 27-year-old averages 2.3 key passes per 90 minutes, with Tranmere’s Kieron Morris and Scunthorpe’s Mason O’Malley being the only left-back or left wing-backs in League Two this season averaging more.

Jamie Sterry, meanwhile, averages one shot per 90 minutes, with no right-back or right wing-back who has played more than twice averaging more.

41% of Hartlepool’s game goes down the left flank, chiefly through Ferguson and this can create an imbalance for the opposition, who may shift over extra bodies to nullify his threat, which may mean that if the hosts can switch the ball quickly in the final third, Sterry will find space to get shots at goal.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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